Book Review: Deborah Coates’ Taylor County Books

I never thought the prairies could be a scary place – not outside of tornado threats and a biting frost. 

I was wrong.

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I found the third book at the library – it had such a great cover, I was like, well then – must check this out. And when I realized (through the synopsis) that it was a sequel, i quickly found the other two books and read them all within a week. 

There are three books in this series so far, and I am pretty sure there are more planned, so that’s something to look out for.

Overall – I found the books a little slow at parts, where I was speeding past parts of the narrative and frustrated that the characters weren’t catching up. That being said, the characters are complex and there is just enough mystery and doubt through the story that you’re left wondering what is going on and what will happen next, which makes it a good read from my perspective.

Without further ado:

Wide Open

Synopsis:

When Sergeant Hallie Michaels comes back to South Dakota from Afghanistan on ten days’ compassionate leave, her sister Dell’s ghost is waiting at the airport to greet her.

The sheriff says that Dell’s death was suicide, but Hallie doesn’t believe it. Something happened or Dell’s ghost wouldn’t still be hanging around. Friends and family, mourning Dell’s loss, think Hallie’s letting her grief interfere with her judgment.

The one person who seems willing to listen is the deputy sheriff, Boyd Davies, who shows up everywhere and helps when he doesn’t have to. 

As Hallie asks more questions, she attracts new ghosts, women who disappeared without a trace.  Soon, someone’s trying to beat her up, burn down her father’s ranch, and stop her investigation.

Hallie’s going to need Boyd, her friends, and all the ghosts she can find to defeat an enemy who has an unimaginable ancient power at his command.

We open in media res somewhat: Our heroine, Hallie, has just returned to South Dakota for her sister’s funeral, her sister having been killed offscreen and Hallie having already had the near death experience that has led her to seeing ghosts. We’re not told exactly what is happening, but Hallie’s voice comes across pretty tired and pretty ordinairy – she sees ghosts, they are generally very cold and they do not talk or make much contact, they just float around her and look mopey. She’s matter of fact about this, even if you feel like she’s hanging onto the raggedy edge at the same time. 

The moment she steps off the plane and to her waiting friends, she sees her sister’s ghost and becomes convinced that Dell’s accident (or suicide by some people’s thinking) was actually murder. 

The only person willing to believe her is Boyd Davies, a new policeman in Taylor County and someone who has his own secrets he wants to keep hidden. 

So, first, let me just say: Hallie is a great heroine. She is unlikable at times, and other times she is wholly sympathetic. She’s prickly and brave, tired and honest and she doesn’t take to being pushed around well – be it by ghosts, the supernatural, her friends and family or even the plot. She will get to where she’s going in her own sweet time, TYVM. 

The plot itself lost me at times – it would go slowly, then pick up so fast that I had to go back and figure out exactly what just happened. That would be my major criticism of the book – it hops around on you, so that the plot seems almost fragile, with things being lobbed at you one second, only for a siesta for the next few chapters. Though annoying, it doesn’t kill the novel – there’s enough character development and good one liners that the novel is saved. 

I think that it’s a good introduction into the world in the same way that a pilot on television would be – there isn’t a lot of explanation of the world you’re entering, the author trusts you to come to the smaller conclusions and hang on for the bigger ones, and the following books expand on that – often times in a huge way. 

Which leads me to book #2 …

Deep Down

Synopsis

Now that she’s solved her sister’s murder, Hallie Michaels has left the army and isn’t sure what to do next. Her relationship with deputy Boyd Davies is tentative, there’s still distance between her and her father, and she needs a job. The good news is, she hasn’t seen a ghost in weeks.

All that changes when she gets a call asking her to help an elderly neighbor who is being stalked by black dogs, creatures from the underworld that are harbingers of death. When a black dog appears, Hallie learns, a reaper is sure to follow. And if the dark visions she’s suddenly receiving are any indication, it looks like the reaper is now following her.

Meanwhile, strange events herald the arrival of ghosts from Boyd’s past, ghosts the young deputy isn’t ready to face. Refusing Hallie’s help, Boyd takes off to deal with the problem on his own, only to find that he’s facing something much larger and more frightening than he’d imagined.

Stalked by a reaper and plagued by dark visions, Hallie finds she must face her fears and travel into Death’s own realm to save those she most loves.

Right so the synopsis had me pretty hooked: going down into hell is always something I find of literary value, whether it’s Persephone, Dante or Sam &Dean on Supernatural. This book delivered on the hell – it is a fast paced ride through a hell that is animated and alive – even if we know it’s all shadows and dead, if you know what I mean. The travelling into hell was actually the highlight for me – and it happens about 3/4 of the way into the novel, with Hallie biting the bullet and going in, realizing that she was always meant to go that way in some form or another. 

The biggest expansion for this novel is twofold: harbingers and reapers. 

First, the harbingers: They are pictured as large black dogs that only people with supernatural abilities (like Hallie) can see. They hang around, doing no harm, and find people who are meant to die by reaper – a sort of GPS for reapers to find those they need to collect. Hallie sort of befriends a Harbinger – Maker – and it follows her along, becoming our annoying evasive teller of truths in all things death related. It actually s charming in its own way, being very much a dog and also very much a know-it-all. I feel like it and Hallie make the best of a buddy cop type team. 

As to the reapers – I can’t say much without spoiling some parts of the book that even took me by surprise, but they’re wicked fun in some ways. Deadly. But also really interesting. The biggest thing about them is that they seem to balance themselves on a precipice of power – where at any time they can topple over, rebel (as it were) against death and take over Hell. There is definitely a power struggle between Harbingers, reapers and Death and I look forward to future books where this is explored. 

As to Hallie and Boyd … not a lot of movement here. In fact, I would say that the lack of development between them makes the ending (which I will not spoil) a little bit less forceful than it otherwise would have been, and something that I think ends up being made up for in the third book …

 

Strange Country  

Synopsis:

In Strange Country, Hallie is settling into life in Taylor County, South Dakota. She’s survived a trip to the underworld and she has a ranch to run, and she’s waiting, not very patiently, for the other shoe to drop. Death will return. He always does. And Hallie knows that this time could be the final meeting she dreads.

Meanwhile, deputy Boyd Davies gets a late night call to investigate a prowler. An hour later, a woman is dead, shot and killed by a bullet from a high-powered rifle. It soon becomes clear that the killing is far from over, that ever small town has its secrets, and that Taylor County’s secrets are stranger than most.

Coming home isn’t easy. When you combine your home coming with harbingers, ghosts, strange magic and Death, it can be downright deadly

And here we have the last in the series, so far.

A couple of things to note: there was something about the timeline that drove me crazy. I feel like there was an error between the second and third books and the timeline just bothered me so much. Seriously, I would stop reading the story just to go over the timeline.

Anyways, asides from that there are a few htings to note:

One, nobody is safe from death. Which is intuitive and yet we forget that in stories.

Two, Hallie and Boyd finally have some very delayed development, and we finally see a thoroughly tired and sort of not-perfect Boyd who is slowly being driven angry by all the responsibility – supernatural, mostly – being thrown onto him.

Three, Maker is still around, which makes anything infinitely better.

This book is a weird one, in comparison to the others: Where the others varied in intensity and speed throughout the story, this one starts explosive and continues at about the same pace, and I think with this book, Coates found her rythim and it shows. The relationships between the characters has settled somewhat – so where there is develipement, there is no longer that tentative way between them, and they seem to be more natural. In terms of plot treatment – this one is the best of the three: it ties up some loose threads (or consequences) of the previous two books as well as deepening the universe of the series by introducing new stakes and conduits. All in all, this one was my favourite book and I highly recommend it.

 

Has anyone else read a story about seeing ghosts?

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